Author(s): U.S. Department of Education
Published: Nov. 2018
“The Department’s listening sessions highlighted the unique challenges facing rural schools, LEAs, and communities. This work confirmed many issues of which the Department was already aware and also provided valuable insight into other areas of concern among rural stakeholders.
According to NCES, 28 percent of public elementary and secondary schools are in rural areas, serving 19 percent of the nation’s students enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools.
While rural students perform well on some measures compared to their peers in other locales, other measures indicate rural areas may be falling behind. Rural fourth- and eighth-grade students outperformed their counterparts in cities and towns on NCES’s 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in mathematics and reading. However, there was no significant difference between rural students’ performance and those of their peers in cities and towns on the 12th-grade assessments in mathematics and reading.
The percentage of rural adults 25 and over who have graduated from high school is roughly equal to the national average and exceeds those of city and town adults. Yet the percentage of adults in cities and suburbs who have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher exceeds the percentage of rural adults with this level of education by more than 10 percentage points.
While rural LEAs face many of the same obstacles confronting urban districts (such as high rates of childhood poverty, difficulty recruiting and retaining effective teachers and administrators, and limited access to quality health care), these challenges frequently can be exacerbated by the remoteness and small size of rural districts.
Rural schools and LEAs often see themselves at a distinct disadvantage compared to their urban and suburban counterparts during grant competitions. While many large districts may have dedicated grant-writing staff, many rural districts (due to small staffs and frequent turnover) lack personnel with the knowledge and experience to complete complex grant applications.
In addition, more often than their counterparts in other locales, rural districts lack access to reliable broadband internet access, causing additional difficulties in applying for grants, providing classroom instruction, and administering programs. Even in those areas where connectivity for the schools is not an issue, schools are often the only locations where students are able to get online, making completion of assignments and research more difficult.
Other difficulties typically unique to rural areas include transportation challenges resulting from longer distances between students’ homes and their schools; fewer career options and apprenticeship opportunities for students; the inability to attract, train, and retain teachers and principals in communities with fewer amenities and activities than urban and suburban areas; a tax base more susceptible to fluctuations caused by changes in local and regional economic conditions; and an inability to offer advanced courses that better prepare students for college and careers.
Adding to these challenges is the reality that each rural community is distinct. There are vast contrasts between and among rural communities in different states, and even within states. Communities in Appalachian West Virginia are very different from those in the Nevada desert. Circumstances in the mountains of western Colorado vary greatly from those in the plains of the eastern part of the state. Some rural communities are among the poorest in the nation, while others lack sufficient workers to fill the available jobs. Rural communities occupy every point on the boom-and-bust cycle. “Rural” is not a monolith but a compilation of thousands of unique communities and circumstances.”